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Carole M. Cusack

The Church of the SubGenius, usually regarded as a “parody religion,” offers a sophisticated critique of Western values focused on resistance to a consumerist conspiracy. This article draws on Guy Debord’s contention that the capitalist spectacle has replaced the religious worldview, rendering everyday life mysterious and the acquisition of goods compulsive, and argues that, when stripped of science fiction tropes, the Church of the SubGenius’ vision of a world in the grip of a totalitarian materialist conspiracy is largely realistic. Yet, this ‘rational’ rejection of consumerism is undermined by the portrayal of J. R. “Bob” Dobbs, the salesman messiah, based (partly) on L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), and the science fictions trappings of the extraterrestrial conspiracy. It is argued that humor is the key to making sense of the Church, as it integrates the bad taste, shock value, and contrariness of the religion into an effective spiritual path of resistance.

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Christopher Partridge

This chapter discusses a number of conspiracies surrounding popular music culture and popular musicians. It examines the processes by which some popular music fans become ‘devotees’ of musicians, claiming for them, an elevated, identifiably religious significance. Consequently, it is often difficult for the fan-devotee to accept the death of the musician. The result is a process of ‘transfiguration’ and mythologization, which typically includes the development of conspiracy narratives. It also examines the reception of popular music within some conservative cultures and the construction of conspiracies about its subversive, affective power. There are analyses of discourses which claim that it has been used by communists and/or demons to undermine Christian societies. There is also some discussion of ‘back-masking’ and claims that rock musicians embed ideas in their music that manipulate young people into committing acts of violence, including suicide.

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Stef Aupers and Jaron Harambam

In the social sciences, conspiracy theory is often morally debunked as pathological, irrational and dangerous and, essentially, considered a form of ‘religious superstition’. Arguing that this simplistic labelling of conspiracy theory as ‘religious belief’ is primarily a form of ‘boundary work’ to legitimate the epistemic authority of the social sciences, this chapter studies the hybrid character of contemporary conspiracy theory based on the self-understanding of its advocates. The analysis shows that conspiracy culture is an unstable, multi-faced phenomenon that is situated at the intersection of three discourses: secular scepticism, popular sociology, and spiritual salvation. Mixing up secular science and spiritual salvation and simultaneously assessing how the world ‘is’ and how it ‘ought’ to be, may be a horror to academics; for conspiracy theorists it is having the best of both worlds.

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Tsuji Ryutaro

Studies of Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese new religious movement responsible for the 1994 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo metro and whose leader, Shoko Asahara, was executed in July 2018, have often focused on the group’s apocalypticism. This chapter argues that Aum’s increasing interest in conspiracy theories forms a central part in explaining why the group turned violent. Two key questions about Aum’s conspiracy theories are explored: First, how does Aum’s conspiracism relate to the broader context of Japanese conspiracy culture? Second, how do we understand the group’s conspiracy theories in the context of its activities as a religious organization? The chapter argues that the development of Aum’s apocalyptic beliefs into conspiracy theories that demonize outside society pushed the group towards physical violence.

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Nicky Falkof

During the last years of apartheid the white South African press fell victim to a powerful Satanic panic which suggested that white Satanists were infiltrating the nation, endangering its youth and threatening its moral fibre. Although no evidence of satanic cult activity was ever uncovered, police, politicians, editors, teachers and other moral entrepreneurs were deeply committed to the idea that organised Satanists were attacking the nation from within. This chapter argues that the conspiracy theories that developed around fear of Satanism were in fact an act of collective deferral: they allowed white people to express potent anxieties about social change without having to acknowledge black South Africans’ legitimate demands for justice, which were becoming increasingly difficult to evade. Far from being just an episode of mass hysteria, white fears of Satanist conspiracy were an important element of the paranoid, reactive psychic landscape of whiteness at the end of apartheid.

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Michael Hagemeister

The experience of crises and fear of catastrophe have led to a boom of conspiratorial patterns of interpretation in post-Soviet Russia. Based on a long tradition of apocalyptic prophecies and speculations, Holy Russia is presented as the eschatological “Third Rome”, as Katechon, called upon and chosen to withstand the Antichrist (who will take his seat in the third temple in Jerusalem) and his agents. These agents are identified predominantly with the Jews, the alleged supporters and beneficiaries of the modern “West”. In ecclesiastical and nationalist circles the infamous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are perceived as Apokalypsis, i.e. the unveiling of the hidden strategy of the satanic forces of darkness in their unremitting struggle against the Divine forces of light. The “apocalyptic matrix” with its eschatologically defined proponents of doom and salvation offers orientation, separation, solidarity and compensation all in one.

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Amanda van Eck Duymaer van Twist and Suzanne Newcombe

This chapter explores the sociology of conspiracy theory in areas of the contemporary cultic milieu, identifying rational social reasons for allegiance to a particular theory as often being more compelling for individuals than the apparent ‘empirical’ truth or falsity of the theory itself. Those who hold non-mainstream theories often work actively to reinforce these beliefs with bonds of social identity. From the perspective of marginal religious groups, belief in conspiracy theories might be very rational and come with social benefits of group solidarity, as well as identification with a clear moral and belief-based community. The point of the theory is not necessarily about its truth – but about the effects of the belief for individuals within socially marginalized networks.

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Tao T. Makeeff

This chapter investigates points of convergence between anti-Semitism, nationalism, and conspiracy theory in contemporary Greece by narrowing in on a marginal subset of Greek anti-Semitic conspiracy theories concerning the so-called Epsilon Team, a secret society that some actors within the Greek cultic milieu and extreme right wing circles believe originated in ancient Greece as well as in outer space. After a short introduction to some important aspects in understanding Greek nationalism, and thus the context of Greek anti-Semitism, namely the construction of pseudo-historiographic accounts about religious homogeneity and cultural continuity, the chapter outlines the historical development of the Epsilon Team conspiracy theory and its contemporary reception. Finally, in an analysis of the origins of the two main components of this conspiracy theory – the idea of an evil Jewish conspiracy, and that of a secret group that protects what subscriber to the theory view as ‘true Greeks’ against this threat, I suggest that both of these ideas originate in a Christian world view and have been influenced by a particular Orthodox Christian national myth.

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Joseph E. Uscinski, Darin DeWitt and Matthew D. Atkinson

Scholars, journalists, and pundits claim that the internet is the cause of conspiracy theorizing. However, the arguments linking the internet to conspiracy theorizing are often underspecified and there is little empirical evidence linking the internet to conspiracy theorizing. Does the internet drive the spread of conspiracy theories and how so? In this chapter, we contend that the Internet has not done as much for conspiracy theorizing as many otherwise assume. While the Internet allows conspiracy theories to travel farther and faster than before, our evidence does not suggest that more people believe in conspiracy theories because of its introduction. Further, while many often assume that the internet allows people to spread ideas indiscriminately via social media, people tend to selectively choose their internet conspiracy theories based upon their existing dispositions, rather than by following the online herd as is often assumed.